Roughly 30 years ago this weekend, the first edition of Radio Free Charleston aired on WVNS FM, 96.1.
The show was a result of my reward for working 100 days straight, often two or three shifts, with no day off while the station was beset with serious staffing problems. I was allowed to go on the air at 2 AM on Sunday morning, and play anything I wanted (within reason) for four hours each week.
This was not just my reward for working myself to death. My real reward was a promotion (in lieu of a raise) to assistant program director. With the title came the responsibility for scheduling the part-time talent to work on the weekends. I couldn’t get anybody reliable to handle the midnight to 6 AM shift Saturday night/Sunday morning, so I went to my boss with the idea of plugging a part-timer into my Friday night, 7 PM to Midnight shift, which was all syndicated programming anyway, and I would take the desolate shift that nobody wanted…IF I could have the freedom to play what I wanted.
My boss agreed to it and thus, Radio Free Charleston was born.
That first show didn’t include any local music. To be honest, it was mainly me digging out the best stuff from our existing playlist and augmenting it with a few choice progressive rock and New Wave tracks from my collection. I also remember being really happy that I could play the extended mix of “Heading To The Light” by The Traveling Wilburys on the first show. I think it was the third week of the show when I slipped in “Big Red Satellite” by Hasil Adkins, and some single recorded by the teenaged daughter of a local car dealer who was considering advertising on the station.
Two weeks after that, the floodgates had opened, I fell in with the local music scene, and for the remainder of the original broadcast radio run, Radio Free Charleston became a bit of a phenomenon, peaking at over ten-thousand listeners and being featured in The Charleston Gazette. This was with a mix of local music, alternative rock, prog-rock, New Wave, underground tracks and even comedy records.
After the show was strangled in its crib over station politics in the spring of 1990, I couldn’t get hired in local radio. I was told repeatedly that program directors were afraid that if they’d hire me, I’d have their job in six months. I consulted with stations in other towns. I couldn’t relocate because I was taking care of my ailing parents, but they still appreciated my expertise. I also sort of backed into writing and market research after working on local political ads. The whole time I was trying to find a way to revive Radio Free Charleston. I must have recorded a dozen pilot episodes for different stations, but it wasn’t until after I began writing PopCult that Brian Young came to me with the idea of reviving RFC as a video show, and Douglas Imbrogno let me incorporate it into The Gazz and PopCult.
Now, with The AIR operating as the internet radio arm of this blog, and with my video work diminished a bit due to Myasthenia Gravis, I’ve kept Radio Free Charleston going as a radio program once again. Each week on The AIR I bring you an hour of local music on Radio Free Charleston, and two hours of whatever I feel like playing on RFC International. Since the fourth hour of the original show was where I played a feature album or artist, it’s almost like I’m doing the same show I was back in 1989/90, only not in the middle of the night, and with a worldwide audience.
That first RFC happened during Labor Day Weekend in 1989. Nobody knew then that the show would take on a life of its own as a beacon of obscurity. All the big shots in Charleston pretend not to know what RFC is, even if they’ve been on the show. I’m proud of the underground legacy I’ve built over the last three decades.
Saturday, Sunday and Monday I’ll be playing episodes of RFC and RFC International on The AIR. I plan to debut a new episode Tuesday at 10 AM, and since we have been celebrating 30 years of RFC all year long, you can expect more treats to mark the milestone for the rest of the year. The marathon begins Saturday morning at 1 AM and continues until 11 PM Monday evening. It will be interrupted at Midnight Sunday, for our weekly marathon of The Swing Shift, my Swing Music Show. Whenever I pre-empt that, I get very angry emails from our European listeners, so that bit of programming stays in place.
You can listen at The AIR website, or right here on this player…
The RFC Flashback, which re-presents our video episodes, will return in this space next Saturday.
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